Understanding Every Step of Heart Surgery
Preparing for, undergoing, and recovering from heart surgery is a big undertaking that can seem pretty overwhelming. As medical professionals dedicated to helping our clients make this transition as smooth as possible, we care about being there for patients by offering helpful resources to prepare you.
The most common heart disease in the country, coronary artery disease occurs when blood flow to the heart is limited. Blood flow decreases to the heart when atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) causes fatty deposits called plaque to build up on the inside of blood vessels, blocking blood flow. The lack of oxygen from the decreased blood causes chest pain or in cases of complete blockage, death of a heart muscle (heart attack). High blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol levels, and diabetes are all major risk factors for coronary artery disease.
Taking good care of your heart can prevent heart disease or help you keep your heart in tip-top shape following surgery. Some of the major ways to keep your heart strong are to eat a heart-healthy diet, avoid smoking, and be conscientious about which types of drinks you’re consuming.
Being properly prepared for surgery and recovery can make all the difference as you heal! We recommend coordinating your helpers, preparing your body, collecting your comforts, preparing your mind, and deciding on alternate communication channel options in case it's too difficult to talk after surgery. Take a look at our Top 5 Tips to Prepare for Heart Surgery to learn more!
Open-heart surgery is complicated and delicate, yes, but the details tend to get exaggerated in the public mind (which is fair, considering that open-heart surgery used to be something very different than it is now). The truth is that open-heart surgery may not be simple, but it's not as bad as we tend to think. Here are some details that might change the way you see this procedure.
As you prepare for major surgery, there are many moving parts you can expect. The team of experts taking care of you has a lot of prep to do before you are ready. Your surgical team includes a heart surgeon, resident doctors, an anesthesiologist, nurse practitioners, and nursing staff.
There are quite a few tests, screens, and images your surgical team needs to have before the surgery starts. These tools give them the information they need to take the best care of you. During this time, your medical team will answer any questions you have and set the expectations. They will likely lay out a schedule for you, but in case you haven't received that yet, we created a simple "To-Do" for you to refer to for now as you prepare!
During the surgery, your family will wait in the lounge and the surgeon will speak with the family once the surgery is over. Once the surgery is complete, you will be taken to the ICU to recover where you will be closely monitored. After your vital signs show stability, your family will be allowed to visit briefly. This visit may be difficult to recall later if you are sleepy or groggy after surgery.
Following surgery, things will be different for a while. You will have some tubes and wires connected to your body to help your team monitor your vitals and make sure you are healing properly. You’ll also begin making small steps toward full recovery within the first few days.
Sternal precautions are a considerable part of the recovery and healing process after heart surgery. To help you take an active role in your healing and understand what you need to do, take a look at exactly what sternal precautions are, why they're essential, and how you can stick with them. There are also certain things you can do to ensure a faster recovery, such as:
- Being diligent to take your medications
- Following your doctor's recommendations for exercise
- Moving around with care
- Stabilizing your wound with a Heart Hugger
- Being patient with yourself
- Calling your doctor with any concerns
Patients undergoing heart surgery naturally have many questions about the recovery process. You want to know how long you'll be in the hospital, how to take care of yourself when you arrive at home, and when you can begin normal activities.
Every patient's recovery timeline is different, and you'll want to keep in communication with your doctor, but here's what you can generally expect after heart surgery!
After cardiac surgery, the sternum needs special care, and protecting it is one of the biggest parts of a successful healing process--and that's because the risks are especially high. One possible complication is sternal dehiscence, which can be avoided with the help of proper care and sternum support.
The primary concern post-surgery is respiratory complications because they can become quite severe and add stress to your recovering heart. Doctors will ensure you are stable and back to preoperative respiratory function before you are discharged. Using a Heart Hugger during recovery can aid in avoiding respiratory complications by making it more comfortable for the patient to cough, do their respiratory exercises, and breathe deeply to exhale the vapor in their lungs from surgery.
The road to recovery can seem intimidating, but these resources are meant to prepare you so you know what to expect. Explore our frequently asked questions page to see what questions others have asked.
To discuss sternal support options,